Getting into Whole Foods, or any other major specialty food retailer, is a huge step for any aspiring food manufacturer. Given the crazy competition among small food producers, being accepted into a large specialty retailer is akin to a high schooler getting into a top-choice college. However, unlike college where you can booze and cruise your way once you're in -- it's very challenging to stay in these stores once you're accepted into them.
You see Whole Foods rarely accepts new products into all of their stores on a national level. Instead, a new product needs to gain placement store-by-store, or on a regional level where they first need to show traction with consumers. If a new product does well, there is a better chance they can maintain their placement and then possibly expand to other stores. If the product doesn't sell well -- there are hundreds of other specialty products dying to take that spot on the shelf.
The primary issue for every food vendor is standing out among all the other awesome sauces, chips, beverages, and spreads. This is a huge challenge (though a good one to have) -- and one we're facing now that our chili sauces were recently accepted into several regions of Whole Foods Markets.
Here are some insights we've gained during our first few months in these stores:
Demo, Demo, Demo
People don't buy cars until they've driven them -- and many people don't buy new food products until they've tasted them. So, it's extremely important for producers to invest in sampling and demos so consumers can taste the goodness. We're those smiling folks that set up the little tables, wear branded aprons, and give you bite-sizes of free food while you're shopping for milk. All stores highly encourage these demos and it's a great way to meet customers and get feedback on the product. These demos are also expensive for tiny food producers who do not have real marketing budgets -- so please consider buying these sampled products the next time you get a free sample!
Meet the Team
We try to meet as many team members of each store that carry our products. Like grown-up Student Council Presidents, we try to meet everyone from the shelf stockers to the cashiers to the managers to develop a strong relationship with our stores. It's not only good to do this because they're cool people -- but they can also help drive sales when guests ask them for unique product recommendations. Please hit us up if you work for a store and we haven't met yet!
More Products Means More Respect
The tiniest guys never get any love. We have two chili sauces that don't take up much room on the shelf. Interestingly, many consumers are more willing to buy a sauce from a company that has multiple products on the shelf and dominates more of the available real estate. We've been encouraged to create more flavors so we can have a more commanding presence which will hopefully drive increased sales.
Shelf Placement Matters
Sadly, until we're a huge brand, there's little we can do to influence stores regarding where our products should be placed on the shelf. Ideally we want our sauces to be eye-level - in an attention grabbing spot. But, we're sometimes placed toward the top or bottom or very side of a shelf - making it difficult for us to pop-out to someone walking by. So we rely on our interesting labels and flavor profiles to hopefully make a memorable impact in consumers' minds. Because every food product is in the same boat and invests in labeling and product innovation, consumers get their choice of the most colorful, craziest products in the natural, gluten-free Willie Wonka Wonderland that is Whole Foods.
Whole Foods has been an awesome partner with us thus far and we're really enjoying this process of growing our brand in their stores. Next time you're in one of these stores, make sure to check out a new brand you haven't tried before!